A Few Interviewing Tips/Techniques for Import/Export/FCPA Investigations: Part 1

For those of you with children who have told you earnestly that they were not even born when the expensive antique vase was broken in the living room, you have probably developed a subconscious, built-in lie detector. In an altogether separate venue, during import, export, or Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations, detecting deception and conducting thorough interviews are critical to discovering hidden information (e.g., FCPA violations) that left undiscovered could lead to penalties, fines and possibly imprisonment for those involved with the violations.

In this article we will provide you with a few practical techniques for interviewing during your regular compliance audits, spot checks and other reviews.

There are two basic types of interviews (excluding depositions or other legal proceedings):

  • Informational
  • Admission seeking

Informational Interviews

Informational interviews are the most common by far. In some sense you do this all the time in many positions related to compliance, import/export audits and FCPA investigations. The primary concern when conducting informational interviews is to  establish relevant facts and identify further sources of information. It is important to ask the right question, as well as listen for the answer. There are appropriate and necessary times to talk, but listening and observing are extremely important during an interview. The common types of informational interviews in import/export/FCPA compliance and investigations are:

  • Understanding processes both theoretical (written policies) versus what actually takes place
  • Identifying relevant persons (such as potential intermediaries and final buyers)
  • Establishing facts (what has taken place, ex: who, what, why, where and how

Admission Seeking

Admission seeking interviews are what you would envision in an episode of the TV series “Law & Order” as police officers attempt to obtain a confession from an uncooperative subject. Although admission seeking interviews in our world are not equivalent to a police interrogation they are much more challenging and should typically only be done by an experienced interviewer. There are potentially significant legal issues and success requires many years of experience and training. In many cases, a subject will simply not make an admission regardless of the skill, experience of the interviewer, or available evidence.

In both informational and admission seeking interviews it can be helpful and often times critical to detect deception or guardedness by a subject.

Understanding motives for deception can assist us in identifying deception. Examples of motives for deception are as follows:

To conceal all types of embezzlement, fraud, waste or violations of company policies:

  • May be malicious or altruistic
  • Protect one’s self or another
  • Satisfy basic needs – ex: bypassing policies may generate additional sales commissions
  • Avoid conflict
  • Achieve power

Deceptive behavior is not always equated with culpable conduct in a particular situation. Some people simply don’t want to “get involved” or are involved to a lesser degree, or have some unrelated activity they are worried about exposing.

Detecting Deception – Techniques

Verbal and non-verbal behavior cues can be indicators of deception and guardedness. The best example to illustrate non-verbal cues would be watching a game of poker and attempting to identify a person’s “tell” or non-verbal cue that the player is attempting to conceal his cards good or bad. The indicators can be considered “non-verbal leakage” for example:

  • Eye contact
  • Facial Expressions
  • Posture
  • Hand/Arms
  • Breathing
  • Paralinguistic – includes pitch, volume and intonation of speech

In an interview you might observe the following non-verbal behavior that may or may not indicate deception or guardedness:

  • The subject touching his/her face/head
  • “Anchor point” shifts (moving of chair, position of body, crossing arms or legs, etc.)
  • Gestures which are inconsistent with what the subject is saying (nodding head yes when making a negative statement. Note — be aware of different cultures’ behavior, there may be false positives)
  • Erecting barriers (example: arms folded and body pulling away from interviewer)
  • Sitting at an angle
  • Higher than normal perspiration, labored breathing, fidgeting

Verbal cues can typically involve a conscious or deliberate response which can sometimes be verified. They can be very effective based on how the interview is structured. Verbal and non-verbal cues combined can be very powerful indicators of deception, guarded behavior or concealment of information.

Some examples of verbal cues that might indicate deception or guardedness are as follows:

  • Too Much Detail
    • Subject believes they are increasing the believability
  • Overly precise answers
    • Did I break into the computer last night? No – not last night.
  • Protest statements
    • I’m a good mother.
    • I’ve given my life to this company
  • Detour statements
    • As I’ve said before
    • Like I told the other guy
    • To be honest
    • Answering a question with a question, “why would I bribe the Customs agent?”
  • Overuse of qualifiers
    • Clearly
    • To the best of my knowledge
    • It’s my understanding
    • Other qualifiers: I am “pretty” sure, “fairly” certain, I am “almost” always truthful
  • Challenge your authority
    • Who sent you here?
    • Who do you work for?
  • Turning the tables
    • Who told you that?
    • Where are you getting this from?
  • Inability to answer simple questions
    • Depends on what the definition of “is” is.
    • Consistently repeating questions to “buy” time to answer.
  • Pleading to a higher power or authority
    • I swear on my mother’s life!
    • I swear on a stack of Bibles
    • I swear to God!

As a general rule, be leery of “answer substitutes,” a response that does not answer your question. Be particularly aware of answers intended to persuade rather than inform, convince rather than convey. Answers to informational questions such as: Question: “Why did you pay the additional commission to the import inspector? Answer: “I am a deacon in my church so why would I do anything dishonest” is more to persuade than to inform. The more the subjects are talking – the more information you may obtain. Ask questions that require them to explain not just answer. Remember that non-verbal and verbal cues are tools to guide your interview not direct evidence of deception or guardedness. Obvious signs of discomfort are a clue that you need to explore further in that specific area of questioning.

Look for “clusters” of verbal and non-verbal behavior rather than individual “tells” (courses will teach this) and when the clusters occur. Clusters of two or more verbal or non-verbal cues during the first few seconds of a response to a difficult question are the best indicators of possible deception. After five to seven seconds pass, the indicators become less reliable. Recognizing differences or changes in an individual’s behavior is more important than generalized cues. Successful interviews are the result of careful planning, research of the facts/evidence, and tactical questioning – not only particular cues.

Other Interview Tips

Uncomfortable silence is helpful for the interviewer to increase pressure and possibly obtain further indications of deception and/or information. Keep difficult questions (admission seeking) questions simple and avoid asking multiple part questions. Resist the urge to answer the question for them or ask leading questions. Ask – then ask again if necessary to confirm the subject’s answer. Don’t be afraid of awkward or uncomfortable questions. Sometimes you may want to challenge people – “Would there be any reason why a co-worker said you were involved in the payment to the Minister of Finance?” Some people are just waiting for you to ask them a difficult question because they want to relieve themselves of the guilt. Do not “bluff” or be deceptive in an informational interview. An interviewer’s credibility is critical to a successful interview. Do not become emotional, upset, or hostile during an interview. An even temper is important to obtain information from the subject. At the end of every interview, ask the subject if there is anything else they would like to share and/or if there were other topics that were missed.

And finally: Although detecting deception by observing verbal and non-verbal cues are important techniques for an interviewer, they do not substitute for being well prepared and conducting a thorough interview.

Our next article will provide you with advanced interview techniques as well as logistical considerations for an interview.   If you have any questions, please contact us at  mjenkins@fidelityforensics.com or cbmeadors@fidelityforensics.com